What the world can learn from Britain’s humble hedge

138 points4
robotmay4 days ago

This’ll likely make me sound like a lunatic, but when I go abroad from the UK, hedgerows are one of the top 3 things I miss (the other two being beer and tea). They’re just so ubiquitous when travelling here, and they make the world feel a bit smaller.

As a wildlife photographer I probably take 75% of my photos of birds in hedges. I don’t have to camp out for hours - I just walk along the hedgerows aimlessly.

Also, if other countries don’t have hedges, what happens to the grotty pornography magazines that dwell natively in the hedgerows? Are they in some sort of meta-state of quasi-existence? A theoretical hedgerow porn mag?

aspenmayer4 days ago

For those who are confused, “woods porn” is apparently a thing.

Sophistifunk4 days ago

Of course it's a thing... Where else did you guys find porn before you got modems?

robbedpeter4 days ago

Billy's dad's garage stash.

RotaryTelephone4 days ago

Wow that went off on a tangent

willyt4 days ago

It’s a thing. For some reason, country folk like to stash thier porn mags in hedges.

alaxsxaq4 days ago

Probably a reference only the British would get. Look up 'hedge porn'.

cameronh904 days ago

One of my earliest memories was on a road trip to the Devon with my parents. The family got out of the car and went up to a hedge to try and pet a cow, and there were porno magazines propped up along the hedge as far as the eye could see.

nickkell4 days ago

Gifts for the fair folk

rufus_foreman3 days ago

Don't be alarmed, now.

masklinn4 days ago

> Also, if other countries don’t have hedges, what happens to the grotty pornography magazines that dwell natively in the hedgerows? Are they in some sort of meta-state of quasi-existence? A theoretical hedgerow porn mag?

In other countries porn mags tend to nest in the woods. In japan i understand the endemic porn mags generally live under bridges, more rarely in small bushes.

jeffrallen4 days ago

Come to Switzerland, then. We have nice hedges, excellent beer, and... Right, did I mention the nice hedges? :)

Galaxeblaffer4 days ago

mountains.. glorious mountains and lakes

kwijybo4 days ago

I live in Australia, which doesn't have hedgerows but does have large areas of native forest, normally called the bush. The bush (at least used to) contain unusually large amounts of pornographic magazines

beebmam4 days ago

I really am having a hard time understanding this comment

CPLX4 days ago

In days of old, there was porn in the woods.

It is known.

mherdeg4 days ago

In the US they are mailed to members of Congress.

gerdesj4 days ago

Different regions of Britain have different styles of hedging and walling. For example "Devonshiring" is quite a distinctive mud bank with very dense hedging made up of a huge number of species. There will be a narrow or very narrow road running with hedges either side at around six to 12 foot high. My uncle's farm near Dartmouth (Devon!) is a good five miles through a lane that often brushes your wing mirrors on both sides simultaneously. Passing places are sporadic but usually less than 500 yards apart - often gate entrances.

On moorland, dry stone walling is the usual delimiter, see Bodmin (Cornwall), Dartmoor Exmoor, and heading up north - The Peaks in Derbyshire(ish), the Yorkshire Moors, etc and most of Cumbria and Northumberland.

One of the odd regions out is the New Forest (laid out about 1000 years back for King William I) This region famously isn't enclosed and is also mostly no longer forest too.

I've only covered England but Wales, Scotland and Ireland have their own varieties of land demarcation, mostly involving hedges of some sort unless moorland in which case stone is generally indicated in exposed areas but all are largely familiar to each other.

The article goes on about maintenance. Farmers fit a a device called a flail to the back of their tractors and trim the hedgerows after birds have fledged. They trundle along at around a slow walking pace. It can get a bit dicey driving in a lane in mid to late spring time because the overgrown hedges block your oncoming view.

c544 days ago

My brain is apparently poisoned, I thought for sure this was about financial hedging, or maybe brexit as a hedge against the rest of Europe, or some other political-economy hot-take garbage.

Anyways, glad it's about plants. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

bryanrasmussen4 days ago

>Anyways, glad it's about plants.

confused me, what with there being nothing about foreign agents being used to manipulate the media, but then I realized it was about vegetative matter. :)

tomxor4 days ago

> then I realized it was about vegetative matter

Manipulating vegetative matter into homogeneous shapes. Not entirely dissimilar then?

On topic... While we still have a lot, we have also lost a lot of our hedgerows to commercial farming practices. So Britain aren't exactly great examples either. These are supposedly insect habitats - insects which have all but vanished in recent years which will no doubt have a large ecological impact.

declnz16 hours ago

Same. Was quietly excited about some subtle-but-numerate upside of the Brexit long arc that, err, I hadn't seen yet, but no we're talking about the bits between fields (which are great I guess).

TickCount4 days ago

I thought at first this was about hedge in the linguistic sense (which is closest in meaning to "humble" of all the senses of that word)

mhh__4 days ago

Hedging is one word that does not coming to mind when it comes to British government.

"Buy cheap buy twice" as the saying goes.

blocked_again4 days ago

Yeah. I thought Britian bought a lot of BTC to hedge against inflation.

rmbyrro4 days ago

You're not alone in this twisted mind universe

mettamage4 days ago

Captain Pump 'n Dump reporting for duty!

Sorry, the pandemic has made me be more on the internet and HN is only 30 to 60 articles long.

gshubert174 days ago

I grew up on a farm in east central Illinois in the 1950s and '60s and remember the hedgerows along the township gravel roads which were on a grid a mile on a side. There were pheasants and quail and I don't remember how many other species of birds; no doubt less than the hedges in Britain, but still considerable. I don't recall when the hedges were removed but I think in that area they were gone by the 1970s. What a loss! And only in one lifetime.

musicale4 days ago

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flurdy4 days ago

I hate hedges. Selfishly.

It is great for animals and birds, probably good for farmers, but suck for people.

I live in South England, in Hampshire, in the South Downs, which is full of undulated countryside full of fields with hedges.

It is pretty. But also I never see any of it as the massive overgrown hedges blocks all views. And make it unnecessarily dark. I might as well live in a city or suburbia. Apart from in the winters when the leaves are gone it is bearable.

I have lived in other countries with none to minor fences by paths and roads. And I have also lived further north in England, in the Peak District, which use more stone/rock walls which are not that high. A drive or even better a bike ride is then wonderful. And not dangerous as you can can see when a car comes the other way round a sharp corner.

new_guy4 days ago

When the British colonised India they had an 1,100 mile long hedge to stop salt 'smugglers' (who were really just Indians trying to do their thing while being oppressed)

tomgp4 days ago

Worth watching the short video embedded in the article to get an idea of what these hegerows look like in practice. The illustration makes them look like standard manicured garden hedges rather than the reality of impenetrable intertwined masses of different species. [edited to fix a typo]

Brakenshire4 days ago

There’s also a concept of dating the age of hedgerow by the diversity and randomness of plant species.

rp14 days ago

The video did not do a good job convincing me that hedges promote biodiversity. I’ve seen more than a badger, rabbit, fox, and mouse on the streets of Berlin in a single night.

FredPret4 days ago

Maybe they go to Berlin for the nightlife

twic4 days ago

Yeah, there are a lot of underground hedge clubs that rp1 is obviously not cool enough to know about.

BucketsMcG4 days ago

Berlin's a weird city, to be fair. It has vast amounts of green space (like, right in the middle of the city is a disused airfield bigger than Monaco), and practically every street is tree-lined. It's about the only city on earth with urban goshawks, wild boars roam the suburbs (and steal naked sunbathers' laptops), and now the raccoons are moving in...

garrtt4 days ago
User234 days ago

One interesting thing is that traditionally English hedges were not trimmed, but woven. It was significantly more labor intensive, but resulted in a much stronger barrier.

jhoechtl4 days ago

I think even more correctly it would be (hedge) laying: (1942)

zeristor4 days ago

Just found this by Oliver Rackham

“Social Forestry Network”

Hedges and Hedgerows Trees in Britain: A Thousand Years of Agroforestry

zeristor4 days ago

Two chapters from his book the History of the Countryside.

seltzered_4 days ago

To frame this in a different way, how would woodland areas (or what the article is calling hedgerows) work before the Enclosure Movement? Would there have been more diversity? A different approach to agriculture?

I find this article a bit odd in it's approach (although supportive of more hedgerow area) and in inquiry of where the concept of hedgerows came from.

multjoy4 days ago

Hedgerows pre-date the enclosure act by centuries, land has always been demarcated. The enclosure act relates to the takeover of common land.

seltzered_4 days ago

Thanks for clarifying, didn't know that.

iam-TJ4 days ago

Hedgerows were, and are, natural living fencing.

For farmers with livestock 'hedge-laying' is something that needs doing every 50 years or so (if well maintained) to ensure the lower sections are animal proof. Take a look at the British National HedgeLaying Society (NHLS) which holds national championships. Our local farming shows often hold competitions too (a neat way to get some of our hedges done for free!):

t0mas884 days ago

I don't think hedges are really woodland areas? It's only a small line of hedge for many acres of corn or grass or something.

lbriner4 days ago

In many areas, the hedges are also connected to smaller "copses" or woods since there are plenty of places where the land wouldn't practically support planting crops. In other more wild places, the hedges are much more hap-hazard and are part of the overall wooded area with a mixture of trees, shrubs and grasses.

Some areas though, where farming conditions are pefect, look much more like the USA Mid-west where all you can see are large areas of crops and border hedges.

Either way, they can still provide valuable protection, nesting and food for insects, birds and small animals.

masklinn4 days ago

They’re not, though in the extremely deforested british isles they might be accounted for to run up the numbers.

ryantgtg4 days ago

As a kid I lived in a small neighborhood in the small town of Montecito (adjacent to Santa Barbara) called The Hedgerow District. Some truly magnificent, towering hedges there.

Roughly here

sirdavidof4 days ago

How unique is this to Britain? Do other countries have similar hedge density?

Angostura4 days ago

I don't have a definitive answer, but I've flown to quite a few places around the world and coming back to the UK, the patchwork of fields and hedgerows is really quite distinctive. I can't think of anywhere else that really has them.

anthonybennis4 days ago


Angostura3 days ago

Good point. A place I have yet o visit. An oversight I must correct.

masklinn4 days ago

In many places they were torn down following mechanization as they’re inconvenient when tractoring about.

I know that some places are starting to incentivise planting them again, because bare fields let wind race and as soon as it rains a bit hard half the field ends on the road blocking it.

lbriner4 days ago

How many is "many"?

In almost all farms, there are hedges and they simply have gates or gaps in them to move between fields so they shouldn't be so inconvenient that the entire hedge needs to be removed.

I was reading that the UK might only have 30 harvests left before the soil is completely depeleted due to intensive farming and the necessity of fertilisers to try and compensate. If there was better education for farmers, for example access to free consulation, good use of additional flora and correct crop-rotation can increase yields significantly. If someone is cutting down a hedge, it probably proves that they should be first on the list!

masklinn4 days ago

> How many is "many"?

Most or all of continental western europe. AFAIK hedges used to be pretty common all over agricultural regions (e.g. belgium, beauce, bresse, bavaria, …), they largely got torn down after WW2, except for north-western france, and a few areas which retained them for historical or cultural reasons (e.g. Monschau).

> In almost all farms, there are hedges and they simply have gates or gaps in them to move between fields so they shouldn't be so inconvenient that the entire hedge needs to be removed.

That requires going to the gate in order to get in and out the field, as well as limit your ability to farm to the edge of the field, and it limits the size of the agricultural equipment you can use short of rebuilding the hedge any time it gets too big.

And the logic was likely that if you’re bringing heavy equipment to open larger gates in your hedge, and removing part of the hedges because land is being consolidated, you might as well remove all of it right now than have to do so every 10 years.

r3trohack3r4 days ago

I grew up in Illinois. The fields there are often surrounded on all sides by a narrow woodland area, sometimes only 10s of feet thick.

I was told the woodland areas are maintained as wind barriers for the otherwise flat plains. Not sure how true that is, but they’re definitely home to normal woodland fauna: dear, squirrels, rabbits, turkey, etc.

Mikeb854 days ago

Yup my grandparents' farm had rows of trees to act as wind barriers. Their farm was large enough that they had 3-4 (don't remember exactly) rows just within their property, never mind the barriers on the property line.

mytailorisrich4 days ago

It certainly wasn't unique to Britain at all.

Many of these hedges were removed with farming mechanisation and industrialisation, though, in France for instance, and have completely disappeared in many places.

null_object4 days ago

Indeed - grew-up in the middle of the Kentish countryside during the 70s and witnessed the wholesale removal of thousands of hedges to create the prairie landscape so beloved of "big-farma" (see what I did there).

The wildlife loss was obvious even back then, not to speak of how the intimate Wealden landscape was almost completely despoiled. Luckily the wholesale destruction was slowed when farmers realized these wind and rain-swept prairies were destroying the topsoil.

aspenmayer4 days ago

New Zealand, at least the South Island, had quite a few when I was there 15 years ago. They are used to pen sheep and also deer, although I’m not sure what kind of deer. They are smaller than deer found in North America, and venison is sold in many supermarkets alongside lamb and other meat products.

totetsu4 days ago I'd say the 'hedges' are much more dense in NZ :)

mc324 days ago

I believe Normandy, France, if not a lot of western France, also has hedgerows “bocage”.

zabzonk4 days ago

Normandy is English! Or vice versa.

lbriner4 days ago

The Normans descended from the Norse so not quite.

allen_lasn4 days ago
hardlianotion4 days ago


mro_name4 days ago

when flying in to Gatwick (LGW) from MUC 10 yrs ago, the land looked like an image of microscopic cell structures – the hedges were omnipresent. Bavaria knocked down most hedges in the 70ies during "land consolidation" to optimise agricultural land for industrial cultivation:

Coherent and larger patches per owner, rectangular, enterable.

Land here seen from above looks tiled. Not cells.

bregma4 days ago

English fields are Voronoi tesselations, to be specific.

sdflhasjd4 days ago

I've seen similar hedges in northern france, particularly Brittany

FundementalBrit4 days ago

I knew a lot of farmers who managed to get rid of problem hedges during the height of the pandemic because local planning didn't respond within 42days when we had the first major lockdown.

zeristor4 days ago

Interesting, any links to cite?

FundementalBrit4 days ago

Nope just speaking to farmers at shoots over the last month.

Not something you'd openly speak to journalists about, god forbid the RSPB gets involved which are at this point a countryside mafia.

reillyse4 days ago

what seems to be missed here maybe for some vague ideas of it being less "natural" is that every hedgerow that I've ever seen that is being used as a livestock barrier has a hefty dose of barbed wire preventing the livestock from going through. You can nail barbed wire right into trees and bushes and attach electric fences with screw on attachments right into trees. Works great. Still has all the benefits for nature but is much more practical from a farmer point of view.